‘Not enough money’ for bus and LRT--Cebu exec

October 21, 2009 - With heavy foreign funding needed to build it, only one mass transit project can be approved for Metro Cebu.

If you ask Cebu City planning officer Nigel Paul Villarete, the newer proposal of a Light Rail Transit (LRT) which Mayor Tomas Osmeña firmly rejected over the weekend was “as good as dead”.

Villarete said the International Funding Community (IFC) has already committed to fund the mayor's favored solution to traffic congestion – a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system.

“Where will they get the money (for an LRT)? They don't have funding to do this,” Villarete told CEBU DAILY NEWS.

He said the LRT idea was also “flawed” because its feasibility study used traffic data taken 18 to 20 years ago.

The IFC is the same funding source being eyed by a consortium led by AMA Group Holdings Corp., which discussed last Saturday its proposed US$603 million LRT which runs on electricity like the one in Metro Manila.

Mayor Osmeña's choice, the BRT uses large buses and elevated station platforms like the one in Brazil, and is estimated to cost less or $75 million.

Meanwhile, Acting Mayor Michael Rama said he worried about Cebu City's heritage value because a massive LRT system may destroy tourism landmarks like Colon Street, the oldest street in the country, and Magellan's Cross.

He wasn't present in Saturday's presentation of the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC), where Mayor Osmeña surprised officials, including several Cebu congressmen, by calling the DOTC “lousy planners” and rejecting the LRT proposal.

Rama said the last time he was briefed on the LRT project, the route would pass from Talisay City to Bulacao, Pardo and the heart of Cebu City.

He urged LRT proponents to find options that don't destroy heritage monuments which Cebu relies on to promote tourism. Rama also recalled the local furor over the Banilad-Talamban flyover, a national project, which hurt the customer traffic of some businessmen.

The LRT will involve massive overhead rails built in the middle of existing streets from Tabunok, Talisay City to Cebu City and end in Mandaue City.

The electric-powered trains are similar to the LRT in Metro Manila.

The depot in Mandaue City, envisioned in the compound of the Department of Agriculture across Gaisano Metro, will have a $137 million “Metro Mall” and commercial offices to earn revenue, according to the unsolicited proposal from private proponents.

The riding public will pay P15 as a boarding fee and another 50 centavoes per kilometer, based on initial computations.

The LRT route would follow N. Bacalso Avenue, left to Osmeña Boulevard, straight to the Provincial Capitol, right to Escario street to the Cebu Business Park to Juan Luna Avenue to the Reclamation Area passing by the North Bus Terminal, right to the national highway located near the Subangdaku flyover, then straight to barangay Ibabao in Mandaue City where a commercial complex will rise.

The support of mayors of Cebu, Mandaue and Talisay is critical for the project before it is endorsed to the Regional Development Council of Central Visayas.

FULL DISCUSSION

Mayor Jonas Cortes of Mandaue City yesterday called for a clear presentation and full discussion of the merits of both proposals.

“The public has to know. We need to have social acceptability for that system to work. What would we do if the people don't understand and then later find out it's not good for them?” he told CDN.

Cortes, who was absent in Saturday's presentation, said he sees the need for a mass transport system to address choking traffic in Metro Cebu.

He attended a presentation of Osmeña's BRT plan last year and expressed his support. Details of the LRT proposal, however, are new.

AMA group vice president and project director Johnny Ramos and DOTC officials were in Cebu over the weekend for the presentation and hoped to get another audience with Cebu City officials, including Mayor Osmeña on Wednesday to clarify his concerns. The mayor declined.

The LRT is an unsolicited proposal by private business groups to the DOTC to undertake a 19-kilometer system under the Build-Operate-Transfer ((BOT) law.

The project got the support of Representatives Eduardo Gullas (1st district), Pablo Garcia (2nd district) and Nerissa Soon Ruiz (6th district) at the meeting.

Mayor Osmeña earlier asked about Cebu City's financial exposure and how the LRT project would affect the city's effort to avail of foreign assistance for its bus-based alternative.

He also said a P15 boarding fee was not affordable for poor commuters.

DOTC Undersecretary Guiling Mamondiong said the LRT project would be implemented at no cost to the Cebu City government and that a separate funding institution would be tapped.

In his presentation, Ramos said that AMA group will tap funding aid from the IFC, Asian Development Bank (ADB) and other multilateral/bilateral sources.

Unconvinced, Osmeña said DOTC officials needed reorientation because they are “lousy” urban planners.

TWO STUDIES

Villarete said Cebu City officials wanted to wait for the result of two studies by the World Bank and DOTC to determine the direction of public transportation in Metro Cebu.

Both studies are scheduled to start this month.

The World Bank study to be completed in eight months, would determine the viability of operating a BRT in Cebu City.

WB-commissioned experts who worked on the establishment of BRTs in La Paz , Nigeria and Aura in Jordan will be in Cebu on Friday to meet city officials, said Villarete.

They will conduct a “corridor study” to guide what the proposed BRT in Cebu City would be like and consult city officials and residents.

Villarete said the second study by the DOTC commissioned Design Science Consultancy firm is on the preparation of the Metro Cebu Strategic Plan (MCSP). It will be complete in 11 months.

“The study would determine the direction of public transport in Metro Cebu in the next 30 years and the form of public transport that we will have to adopt,” he told CDN.

“The ridership of LRT can be carried by the BRT. They provide the same level of service so why choose a $603 million project over a $75 million project?”

Villarete said he is confused why the LRT project, which was rejected before, is being revived now.

Between 1992 to 1994, former senator John Osmeña funded a study to determine the feasibility of putting up an LRT in Cebu province. Schema Consult Inc. was commissioned to do the study. Another study was done by a US based consultancy firm in 1995. But the study did not even reach DOTC.

In 1999, former senator Osmeña created a Central Visayas Development Office to do study the viability of putting up an LRT with routes from Carcar town in the south to Danao City in the north. The project was proposed for ODA funding. But the plan was aborted because of proposals to make LGUs maintain the railway, something which was heavily opposed.

In 2007, AMA group came up with an unsolicited proposal and did a feasibility study for an LRT. (Inquirer)

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